Archive for 2020

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Posted in Comedy with tags on October 29, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Unofficially this is Borat 2, but officially the unadulterated title of this effort is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The silly title is one of the funniest jokes. This is of course the sequel to Borat, a movie that came out in 2006.

It’s more of the same. If you’re familiar with his schtick, actor Sacha Baron Cohen interacts with the public as the Borat character to get them to say and do embarrassing things. The “story” here is that Borat journeys to America to offer his daughter Tutar as a gift to Vice President Mike Pence in order to redeem Kazakhstan in the eyes of America. Why not the president? Because apparently, he couldn’t get close enough to make him a part of this production. Although Cohen wears a Trump disguise in one segment. Mike Pence briefly appears unflappable from afar. Sasha Baron Cohen can no longer dupe individuals as Borat. He’s too recognizable. The script acknowledges this fact early on so he dons other disguises to portray individuals on the sidelines. As such, the real star is actress Maria Bakalova who plays Borat’s daughter. She is absolutely fearless in her pursuit of comedy. She displays some genuine acting chops in the process as well. Her admirable commitment to the role is a high point.

Comedy is extremely subjective. This is a slapdash effort where most of the antics revolve around cringe-inducing humor. Targets include a cosmetic surgeon, a pastry chef, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and a debutante coach. Some — like the baker for example — appear to be in on the joke. She decorates a chocolate cake at his behest with the phrase “the Jews will not replace us.” She looks amused. In other sketches, the victims practically go out of their way to put Sacha Baron Cohen at ease after he exhibits demeaning antics. It doesn’t speak well of your comedy when you actually feel sorry for the patsy. A particularly disgusting moment involves a father-daughter dance at a debutante ball. That’s all I’ll reveal about that gross-out scene but consider yourself warned.

There’s really no way to truly review a work like this for the masses. The barometer for me: Is it funny? The short answer is no. While there are a few amusing gags here and there, I didn’t laugh much. A lot has changed since the first film came out 14 years ago. Borat is no longer shocking. Before Cohen was satirizing America in the age of George W Bush. Now it’s Donald Trump where people openly say and do things on social media that are far more scandalous. Furthermore, we currently live in an America where people on both sides of the political spectrum are murdered for espousing their beliefs. There is nothing presented here that is as outrageous as what’s routinely on the nightly news. The complexity of our current political climate demands a more cogent satire. This movie is content to simply mock American cluelessness. Business as usual isn’t enough.

10-23-20

Possessor

Posted in Drama, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on October 22, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Possessor is brutal. This is horror with the mischievous intent to disturb. I’m not surprised. It’s precisely what I would expect from the son of David Cronenberg. Brandon’s last effort was Antiviral which came out almost a decade ago in 2012. His belated follow-up concerns the degeneration of the human mind. It honors repellent gore at the expense of a compelling plot. Visually it’s a stunner though. Brandon Cronenberg includes all of the superficial affectations that make his father’s work fascinating, but he forgets the fact that story and character development matter too.

Plotwise there isn’t a lot to discuss. Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a “possessor.” She works as a contract killer whose consciousness is implanted into the body of a person close to the target in order to carry out an assassination. She receives her orders from Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a relentless boss without any moral qualms whatsoever. Tasya is instructed to kill billionaire John Parse (Sean Bean). To do so, she is embedded into the psyche of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), the boyfriend of John’s daughter, Ava (Tuppence Middleton). Despite Andrea Riseborough’s top billing, it is Christopher Abbott who occupies the bulk of the narrative. He’s a handsome fellow with a wooden personality that never displays any more than the bare minimum required to convey a human being. If he had been revealed to be a robot at the end, his impassivity would’ve made perfect sense.

Possessor isn’t a complicated film. The saga details a murder gone wrong. Yet a science fiction milieu has been grafted onto a simplistic outline that travels at a snail’s pace. The futuristic cyberpunk vibe elevates the atmosphere into something far more convoluted than the facade. I’m not saying the concept couldn’t have inspired something great. Christopher Nolan took the notion and made Inception — one of the greatest films of the past 10 years. Give the idea to the progeny of a famous filmmaker and you get lots of macabre ways to creatively kill people. As the body count grows, it’s apparent that Cronenberg is more interested in making people uncomfortable than telling an appealing story. This is a thoroughly repellent production that cruelly assaults the viewer without engaging our emotions. At least Karim Hussain’s cinematography imbues the carnage with an elegant sheen. It’s a testament to its style that this film has garnered some very positive reviews from the cognoscenti. I want substance however, and stomach-churning violence doesn’t qualify.

09-01-20

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Posted in Crime, Drama, History with tags on October 19, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the most significant film of 2020. No, not really, but that’s how this solemn melodrama is presented. Incoming attorney general John Mitchell (John Doman) and his justice department have cooked up a case against a list of Richard Nixon’s enemies. To underscore the point, Mitchell even describes the litigation to prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as “the most important trial of your lifetime.” This is a gloomy and academic courtroom drama from writer Aaron Sorkin who is a talented writer who knows a thing or two about such things. Nearly 3 decades ago he gave us A Few Good Men which is a classic I truly adore. I was primed to love this. Alas, this is my reflection on a disappointment.

Chicago 7 has value because it’s a true story. However, as the chronicle is detailed here, it wouldn’t exist solely a fictional work to be enjoyed. This is the depiction of an event from the past that seeks to instruct and enlighten. The account is based on the prosecution of a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters. They were charged with conspiracy to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. This timely tale “ripped from the headlines” seizes the current zeitgeist. As such, it’s been hyped as a major awards contender this year.

Aaron Sorkin is an exceptional writer. Of that, I am convinced. He won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Social Network which is brilliant. Although that picture was directed by David Fincher who imbued its aesthetic with spectacular style. This is only Sorkin’s 2nd time directing (Molly’s Game was the first) and I truly wish someone else had taken over those duties. While he has an ear for crackerjack conversation, he’s less attuned to what makes a compelling movie. He’s famous for fast-paced dialogue and extended monologues. The saga runs 130 minutes so you’re going to get a lot of those. Nevertheless, the delivery of those speeches is so traditional and dated. This feels like something you’d watch in school. There’s a frustratingly long opening montage that clumsily introduces the characters. Then there’s the actual lawsuit which is the bulk of the movie. Flashbacks are peppered into the narrative. These interstitials illustrate why these defendants are before the court. None of it is innovative or emotionally galvanizing. It simply exists to educate. This is your standard-issue Hollywood legal drama with the good guys clearly defined on one side and the bad guys on the other.

The sprawling cast is composed of unique casting choices. The “saints” include Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale. They all have vignettes that will play well in the highlight reel on Oscar night — should they get nominated, that is. That clearly is the goal. Civil rights lawyer William Kunstler who defends the Chicago Seven is the designated hero so he has several moments. Actor Mark Rylance sporting long hair, is quite affecting in the role. Now for the “sinners.” If there’s a performance that’s begging for a prize, it’s Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman. Initially, I was inclined to hate him as the villain of the piece. His grumpy old man character glaringly represents the establishment. However, I gradually regarded his over-the-top histrionics as a reactionary as a welcome comedic break from all the serious talk. I savored his cranky behavior in his verbal exchanges with William Kunstler.

It all climaxes with a conventional checklist of some of the most hackneyed elements ever put forth on film. The ending literally features a slow clap with the music swelling and a stirring speech. I mean it’s as cliched as anything I’ve ever seen and it’s the last thing you’re left to think about before the credits roll. Some will relish the theatrics. Overall Chicago 7 has some great writing about a historical milestone, but as entertainment it came up short for me. Be that as it may, it is just the type of didactic, politically left learning portrait that Hollywood adores. Its heart-tugging specifying is designed to win accolades. I suspect this will be recognized when nominations are announced on March 15th. It is a wee bit amusing when lesser-known defendant John Froines (Danny Flaherty) wonders aloud as to why he and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) have been included. “This is the Academy Awards of protests,” Lee deadpans. “It’s an honor just to be nominated.” At least the movie is self-aware.

10-16-20

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on October 19, 2020 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio! The show is talkSPORT with Martin Kelner where I discuss movies. We chat about I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (Netflix). Click below. My segment begins 21 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 9 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Click the link below and hit play:

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

The Wolf House

Posted in Animation, Drama, Horror with tags on October 15, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Wolf House (La Casa Lobo) is like a fairy tale out of the Brothers Grimm. The twisted fables collected by those German authors definitely had an edge. Yet this is even more unnerving. Striking! Innovative! Hypnotic! Bizarre! Mere adjectives aren’t enough to do it justice. If you’re familiar with the work of the Brothers Quay or Jan Švankmajer then you’ll have a reference point at least. For others, this will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Regardless, it will undoubtedly be the strangest movie you will see this year. This first premiered in February 2018 at the Berlin International Film Festival. Since then it has won a slew of awards and garnered widespread critical acclaim. It finally received a release in May 2020 in the U.S.

Maria (Amalia Kassai) is a young woman who escapes from a German community in the south of Chile. She takes refuge in a mysterious house in the woods. From that seed of an idea, emerges a stop motion animated tableau that is an unforgettable display of creative ingenuity. Her thoughts progressively infect the walls of the dwelling in which she lives. The surfaces come to life in a nightmarish vision. The Wolf House is a living, breathing physical room that is a painstakingly created tactile world. The art installation combines papier-mâché, puppets, sculptures, paintings, and other artistic methods to create scenes that were staged and photographed in various galleries throughout the world. This was accomplished over the course of several years in full view of the public. Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña are artists turned filmmakers with a series of shorts to their credit. This is their first feature and judging by the warm response, not their last.

This dark tale has its roots in a very sinister reality. Paul Schäfer was a Nazi sergeant that ultimately fled Germany after he was charged with pedophilia. He escaped to South America and it was there that he formed Colonia Dignidad (Dignity Colony), an isolated cult in the Andean foothills of eastern Chile. It was portrayed to the public as a bucolic agrarian utopia but was in fact closer to an authoritarian Nazi police state. Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet used the colony as a detention camp to torture and execute political prisoners.

There are moments contained within this account I will never forget. Despite its disturbing inspiration, nothing presented is even remotely gory or violent. However, the eerie mood gradually works its way into your psyche and the effect can be unsettling. The narrative opens with an indoctrination video of an idyllic residence where the inhabitants live off the land in perfect harmony. The propaganda confers the settlement in a positive light. Supernatural developments ensue. Early on Maria finds two escaped pigs and she mothers them until they turn into human children. However, the ensuing production is not dependent on plot. Maria’s shoddy little shack is a constantly evolving nightmare of shapes and images. I sat there gobsmacked by the spectacle. During the chronicle, “the wolf” (Rainer Krause) is a foreboding presence that haunts Maria even after she escapes. His disembodied but seductive voice intones: “Maria…..Maria…..Maria.” He beckons her to return. It still gives me the chills.

09-03-20

American Murder: The Family Next Door

Posted in Crime, Documentary with tags on October 11, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

True crime documentaries are all the rage. Nowhere is this more evident than on Netflix. Recent titles include: Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer, and Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. As you can see, “killers” seem to be a focus. The list goes on and on. There are hundreds of titles available. The genre has become something of a cottage industry for the streaming service. This latest one was released on September 30 and quickly captured the public curiosity as it immediately shot to #1. This one is particularly haunting. The documentary does a great job of explaining “what” happened. It’s the “why” that left me confused.

The chronicle concerns the disappearance of Shan’ann Watts and her beautiful daughters: 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste. She was also nearly 4 months pregnant at the time with her son Nico. Shan’ann was a big user of social media. She posted photos and videos online often to document her life. Director Jenny Popplewell utilizes this archival footage to construct an intriguing story. From the outside, it appears that she had an attractive picture-perfect family with husband Chris and daughters living in Colorado, but as we delve deeper, two extremely unhappy people within a disintegrating marriage are revealed.

This is a disturbing window into the annihilation of a family. Text messages between Shan’ann and her best friend are displayed across the screen popping up like real discussions back and forth. They discuss intimate matters and we are eavesdropping. I felt a little uneasy reading these confidential particulars. It’s a tragedy that Shan’ann is no longer around to object, so I sadly acknowledge they’re more like evidence at this point than a private chat. They do shed some light. Her fabulous marriage by all outward appearances wasn’t wonderful. She too is baffled by her increasingly distant husband. The portrait also highlights the idea that reality vs. an online persona can be wildly different things. Given that this largely details a police investigation, it effectively presents the facts, emphasizing certain developments, the subsequent procedural, and how they were able to secure a confession. The underlying psychology behind the murder is less clear. It feels incomplete. Perhaps that is a question that cannot be answered. However, the eerie feeling remains long after this unsettling account is over.

Beats

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on October 1, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Beats is the tale of an unlikely friendship circa 1994. Johnno (Cristian Ortega) is a timid, dark-haired middle-class teen. His relatively stable background includes a single mom (Laura Fraser) and her boyfriend (Brian Ferguson) who is a policeman. Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) is his fair-skinned unpredictable best mate that is far less privileged. He’s apparently without any parental supervision living in a spartan flat with his abusive older brother Fido (Neil Leiper). Scotland is currently undergoing radical socio-political change set against the backdrop of the 1990s UK rave scene. The establishment has deemed unlicensed parties as “anti-social.” These feelings had culminated with the chaos surrounding the Castlemorton Common Festival in 1992 which led to The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994. The restrictive law attempts to ban gatherings with music characterized by “repetitive beats”.

It’s the mid-90s and the boys are all but consumed by the rave culture that has captivated the local adolescents. A local radio DJ (Ross Mann) helps fuel the revolution with his pirate radio show. He rebels against oppressive laws by encouraging his listeners to congregate at an enormous outdoor party at a secret location. Johnno’s exasperated mother Alison means well but she doesn’t relate with her son on a personal level. Her relationship with Robert only makes matters worse. The man has essentially become a stepfather to the boy. Johnno’s family are searching for a better life. They will be moving away and taking Johnno from the old neighborhood in about a week. He’s not happy about it. The upcoming underground rave is more than just another party. This will be the last time he will ever get to hang out with his friend. The party is a simple destination but the journey to get there will prove to be a little more difficult than they think.

Beats is a touching saga of an enduring friendship. These two disparate characters both live in a small town in central Scotland. Other than location, it’s not initially clear why Johnno and Spanner are buds. It turns out they’re unified by their love of electronic dance music. They also share a tortured relationship with their respective families. These outcasts support each other in a way they do not receive at home. Their connection is deep and overflowing with heart. Coming of age tales are nothing new. Beats may appear to be another teenage rebellion film but this transcends the genre. The raw, unfiltered portrait of Scottish youth is beautifully captured with such authenticity. Scottish teens do indeed speak English. However, their dialect is filled with enough slang and colloquialisms that it occasionally sounds like a different language. I suggest you watch with captions. It isn’t required though. It’s a fundamentally simple story that creates a mighty feeling.

This is a compelling exploration of freedom, social class, the UK dance subculture, and an undying devotion between two close pals. Director Brian Welsh and co-writer Kieran Hurley (who adapted his own play) emphasizes this rapport which affords the movie a poignancy. This fact this 90s set bildungsroman is filmed in black and white gives it a feeling of nostalgia. It all culminates on the dance floor at the rave — an egalitarian event that is an uniter of souls. The soundtrack features Human Resource, LFO, Inner City, N-Joi, Leftfield, The Prodigy, and other artists. Curated by JD Twitch, it’s a retro setlist that will propel fans of Techno, House, and Trance back in time. Meanwhile, neophytes may discover a new style of music. The glorious monochromatic cinematography is punctuated by bursts of color as the evening progresses. Like Dorothy arriving in the land of Oz, the effect visually underscores an emotionally powerful transformation of the characters. I felt what they experienced and the trip was an absolute joy.

09-14-20

Misbehaviour

Posted in Drama, History with tags on September 22, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

These days, you know a controversial radical has been been awarded the mainstream stamp of approval if Keira Knightly is cast as that person in a handsomely mounted biopic. In November 1970, a group of feminist activists flour-bombed the stage at the Royal Albert Hall to proclaim their dissatisfaction with the Miss World Beauty contest. That’s the inspiration for this well-meaning but passive drama highlighting a host of various women ….oh and uh…Bob Hope……..associated with the event. The comedic icon hosted the highly watched event. Its viewership comprised of over 100 million people across the globe. Filmmaker Philippa Lowthorpe (BBC TV’s Call the Midwife, UK miniseries Three Girls) is the first [and only] woman to win a BAFTA for directing. It’s rather fitting that someone with that distinction should helm a production such as this. The largely female creative team behind the camera includes producers Suzanne Mackie & Sarah Jane Wheale along with a screenplay by Rebecca Flynn & Gaby Chiappe.

Misbehaviour is an account featuring an ensemble that attempts to detail several stories. The chronicle wants to be both a takedown of pageants that demean women while also uplifting those very same institutions as an establishment that elevates underrepresented individuals. The confusing point of view inexplicably changes over the course of this saga. However, if I had to cite a driving focus I’d say it was Sally Alexander. She’s portrayed by the aforementioned Keira Knightley who is making a habit of playing crusaders for the cultural good as of late. Sally is a history major at Ruskin College, Oxford and a feminist activist within the women’s liberation movement (WLM). She’s supported by fellow activist Jo Robinson, a rougher around the edges personality performed by Jessie Buckley. Jo is the punk antagonist to Sally’s more sophisticated intellectual. They share a common goal though — to “overthrow the patriarchy.” Beauty titles objectify women, they claim. Neither are happy with the Miss World pageant.

The entrants in the competition have less of a voice as that’s not really the main thrust of the tale. They are less featured but we are introduced to a handful of the contestants, There’s heavy favorite Miss Sweden (Clara Rosager) and Miss United States (Suki Waterhouse). There are also two South African candidates — a white “Miss South Africa” (Emma Corrin) and then a last minute addition, the black “Miss Africa South” (Loreece Harrison). Her under the wire addition due to pressure applied from a journalist on organizer Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans). His steely wife Julia, a Miss World executive, embodied by Keeley Hawes. Also, connected with the tournament is Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear sporting a ridiculous prosthetic nose). Justified or not, I have always held a positive view of Bob Hope for his tireless dedication to charitable causes. Be that as it may, the estate of the beloved icon and philanthropist will not be pleased with the smarmy, leering imitation he is afforded here. Conversely, his wife Dolores Hope is presented in a favorable light by a knowing Lesley Manville. Dolores is unfailingly devoted and supportive. However we are encouraged to pity the long-suffering wife who is apparently cognizant of her husband’s womanizing ways.

Feminism is in fact a social campaign with a range of ideals and goals that vary depending on an individual’s background. The best part of Misbehaviour is the scant morsel of even-handedness that arrives in the form of the supremely talented actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She plays Jennifer Hosten, the fiercely independent representative from Grenada who also happens to be one of the few women of color allowed to participate. The narrative shouldn’t want to detail more crusades but the anti-apartheid movement becomes a focus as well. Jennifer’s presence is a breath of fresh air because her journey is the one plot development in this script that I did not predict. This individual appears to subvert the intended message that pageants degrade women. A conversation Jennifer has with Sally Alexander is a critical dialogue within the film. Given the power of Jennifer’s declaration at the end, I sorely wish Jennifer had secured a central role and not what she is relegated to here – a periphery character.

09-15-20

The Devil All the Time

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on September 20, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I don’t mince words. In that spirit, I was going to head off my review with a tried and true denunciation: The Devil All the Time is “a sadistic slog.” Then I discovered a fellow critic had already used that epithet. Somehow a “vicious venture” or “fiendish fable” doesn’t sound quite as catchy. Regardless. They all fit. This is a thoroughly unpleasant movie. A southern gothic tale concerning various characters and their crimes is set in rural Ohio and West Virginia after WWII. Dark and brutal is the atmosphere at hand. Are these people depraved? Welp. Let’s just say that the individuals detailed here make the Georgia souls living in the wilderness of Deliverance seem sophisticated by comparison.

Because I am fair, I will start with the good. The production has the aura of quality. It promotes a talented all-star cast including Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Jason Clarke, and Sebastian Stan. Tom Holland plays Arvin, a local from the provincial town of Knockemstiff, Ohio. Arvin is a little boy (Michael Banks Repeta) at the beginning of the story and the closest thing to what might pass for a hero. He attempts to make things right although his actions are so very violent. I’m not sure if I should be applauding his behavior. Actress Riley Keough is effective too. She plays an outright criminal but there’s some shading to her role. She’s conflicted at least. There are a lot of personalities. The intricate ensemble converges in a myriad of interesting ways throughout the saga. The production features nice cinematography. Ok, that is where the compliments end.

The bad news is that this chronicle simply wallows in unpleasantness. These are wicked people doing really immoral things. The narrative frequently weaves religion into the framework in order to give cursory weight to this tale. As you probably have guessed by now, we’re not dealing with pious believers. These are the hypocrites that abuse faith in order to further their perverse agendas. The viewer is confronted with a lot of dreadful moments. An evildoer (Harry Melling) slays his poor wife (Mia Wasikowska) with a screwdriver in the name of religion. A false preacher (Robert Pattinson) preys on innocent underage girls. Another couple (Jason Clarke, Riley Keough) are serial killers who film their murders. Then there’s the father (Bill Skarsgård) of a little boy (Michael Banks Repeta) who believes sacrificing the family dog will save his wife who is dying from cancer. I won’t delve into the sordid details but a cross is involved. Ya know it’s an odd thing . I’ve noticed you can kill any number of humans and the audience won’t bat an eye. Kill a dog and you’ve committed the ultimate sin. You’ll witness that atrocity in a most heinous way. You have been warned.

May God have mercy on the makers of this production. Director Antonio Campos’ (Christine) adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s novel is — to borrow a hackneyed phrase — misery porn. I’m not the first to level that criticism upon this wretched drama and I surely won’t be the last. Screenwriters Antonio Campos and his brother Paulo subscribe to the belief that there is nothing worse on this earth than a hypocritical religious zealot. The account reminds you of this fact time and again until the immorality is drummed into your skull to the point you can’t bear the degradation any longer. The deeds portrayed echo in a hollow chamber of superficial developments. I didn’t get an overall objective to all this depravity other than to emphasize that there is evil in the world. Sometimes powerful images can underscore deep themes but here it is a cheap and easy way to merely shock. Unless you’re tempted by the visual depiction of human suffering with no redeeming social value, skip this.

09-16-20

The Social Dilemma

Posted in Documentary, Drama with tags on September 15, 2020 by Mark Hobin

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Any relevant documentary that sounds the alarm on a societal ill should satisfy at least two prerequisites: (1) Does the negative conduct actually exist? And (2) if it does, is that behavior shocking? I’d say The Social Dilemma supports a clear YES to the first question and a hard NO to the second.

This chronicle is presented as an expose as well as a cautionary tale. The creators of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other interactive media have purposefully designed their products to be “addictive” so that you keep using them. Successful social media platforms are essentially “guilty” of creating a product people crave. No surprise there. The supposed insight is that they do this by getting to know the things you like and then promoting those things so you keep using their service. Of course, these channels are free so perhaps an even bigger epiphany is that we, the “users”, are the products being sold. Advertisers are the consumer buying the information we provide. The more we interact with social networks the more advertisers can sell us products. Are you surprised? Then I have another revelation: the more TV you watch, the more likely you will be exposed to commercials.

The Social Dilemma did its research. Many of the bigwigs being interviewed here are former high ranking leaders at technology companies and picking their brains about these subjects is indeed fascinating. Tristan Harris, former Google Design Ethicist (!), makes a memorable appearance. His and others’ disapproval at the persuasive techniques employed may sway you. However, I don’t think it’s outrageous that content on these services is manipulated toward the user. I expect to see different ads and information than others. This happens everywhere. The commercials during cartoons advertise toys and those during sports programming promote beer. If that concept is unfamiliar, then this docudrama might be alarming, but I keep coming back to TV because the comparison is so apt. Intellectuals regarded television as the Big Bad for years until the internet came along.

This account discusses a lot of topics over the course of 89 minutes. I reacted to most of it with a shrug and a lot of “I already knew that.” However, it briefly touches on the effect of social networks on teens. If this document should scare anyone, it’s parents whose impressionable children might be more deeply affected by these tactics. Mental health is the most interesting aspect and a worthy subject of a separate study. Dramatic reenactments sprinkled throughout are supposed to show in a concrete way how agents behind the scenes target us. Actor Vincent Kartheiser portrays the human embodiment of the artificial intelligence inside your phone. Skyler Gisondo and Sophia Hammons play teen victims. Most of these conspiracy theory dramatizations are unintentionally funny but they do sort of undercut the solemnity of the atmosphere so I kind of appreciated them. Conspiracy theories are powerful stuff and this movie has supposedly caused a large number to delete their Facebook. I have no proof as to whether that is in fact true. If it is, then perhaps this documentary is contributing more to the common good than I realize.

09-11-20